How It All Began

“As well as a flourishing library, the school by 1909 had a wood collection containing specimens of nearly all of Pennsylvania’s native trees and large shrubs. For each species, cross sections and radial and tangential sections had been prepared to show the gross appearance of the wood. The next step was the preservation of samples in alcohol and glycerin so that sections suitable for microscopic examination could be cut. These latter sections were to be especially useful in the study of timber physics (wood technology)." E.H. Thomas, “A History of the Pennsylvania State Forestry School, 1903 – 1929.” p. 67

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Blog is Already Improving the Project

I've simply been going through the colllection, specimen by specimen, trying to settle on a correct identifying scientific name for each. At first, I was just accepting the original identification and labeling of each. Dr. Newell Norton, who had been originally consolidating the collection in the 1950's and 1960's, had been organizing the collection during his work, and having datasheets typed up for each. As he did so, he apparently confirmed the identification and name of each as he went, since some of the specimens had been re-named from their original labeling. And I am not the wood scientist Dr. Norton was, so I accepted the names on the data sheets.

Over the years, though, I've gotten better with references and online tools for confirming the Accepted Name of each specimen, and have begun changing some of the labels as I determine a change to be proper. However, I only started doing that in the last few months; the first 3000 or so specimens or so were simply the accepted name at the time of Dr. Norton's work.

So, when I tried to add an information box on the right-hand side of this blog with the current number of specimens, families, and unique species, I realized I had not reconciled the first 3000 with their current accepted names. Also, in the spreadsheet I'm building (in Google Sheets, so that I can share it online with whomever wants to see it, once it's completed) the genus and species names are entered in separate columns, preventing me from using a function to easily count the number of unique species in the collection.

So, since I'm at this point, I'll break from data entry and go back to the beginning. I've created a new column, called "Accepted Name", and I'll enter the accepted genus and species for each specimen, as determined from The Plant List. For those that have only unresolved names, I'll list those in a separate column. That way, I'll be able to check back every year or so to see if they have been reolved.

Once that's done, I'll use a function on the column to determine the precise number of unique, and correct species in the collection as of my current tally.

Now that I think about it, this is probably a good exercise for all wood collections, if they haven't had their names kept current. There have been a lot of changes in tree species names over the decades, and if specimens are more than a decade old, they probably need to be re-checked. The internet, and advances in genetic research, are really allowing the taxonomists to clean up the family trees of the species. And I'm all for that!

It's a break in my progress on data entry for the collection, but at this point, I'd like to know some good numbers...wouldn't you, if you were in my situation?

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